Sunday 1 December 2013

The Cheapside Hoard – Exhibition and book review.

The Cheapside Hoard
This exhibition is on until 27th April 2014, so if you can get to it, go. If you can’t get to it, buy the book. Having said that getting into the exhibition is interesting, no cameras, no bags, no coats (lockers are available), past security guards and through a full height turnstile, it’s like getting into a bank vault, but then this is serious jewellery.

In 1912 some workmen discovered a large cache of late sixteenth, early seventeenth century jewellery in a cellar in Cheapside. Cheapside is a major road in the City of London running, roughly, from St Paul’s Cathedral east towards the Bank of England, and in the early seventeenth century contained many goldsmiths’ shops. The hoard was purchased and divided between the London Museum, the Guildhall and the British Museum. This is the first time all 400 odd pieces have been brought together. The first part of the exhibition covers all of this information with photographs, contemporary illustrations, maps, and some wonderful early shop signs. It then goes on to set the scene of London in the first half of the 17th century, the work of goldsmiths and jewellers, and their shops.

The discussion of where the jewels themselves come from is fascinating because it gives an idea of how wide the trade routes were. There are sapphires from Burma, India and Sri Lanka, while some amethysts came from India others were sourced from Ethiopia, Bohemia, Albania and Brazil. Rubies and garnets were from Burma, India and Sri Lanka, turquoise from Persia. Emeralds were from Colombia, and include a spectacular watch in an emerald case.

The exhibition, and the book, is particularly good at matching jewellery in paintings with examples in the collection. There are chains meant worn in loops like those that appear on the portrait of a woman previously thought to be Mary, Queen of Scots. There are beautiful pendant earrings like those worn by the Countess of Southampton, and there are plenty of rings as worn by Margaret Cotton both on her hand and in her ruff. Interesting there are not many pearls, though this maybe because they have not survived the conditions in which they were hidden, however there is a lovely tiny pin, topped with a ship the hull made from a baroque pearl and the rigging of gold.

There is a discussion in both the exhibition and the book as to when the hoard may have been hidden. There is a datable watch made by Gaultier Ferlite, probably between 1610 and 1620, it is the only watch made by him to have survived. There is also a seal with the arms of a Viscount Stafford, the only person to fit this became a viscount in 1637.

A BBC4 programme on the Cheapside Hoard, made to coincide with the exhibition, is not currently available via the BBC website, but it is available online in two parts from YouTube:

The book London's Lost Jewels: The Cheapside Hoard by Hazel Forsyth. Publisher: Philip Wilson Publishers Ltd ISBN 13: 9781781300206 ISBN 10: 1781300208 £19.95
Reproductions of some of the jewels are available from the museum shop, though the amethyst earrings are £349 – Christmas presents ladies?

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